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Sheriff's Office holds 9/11 remembrance ceremony

NEWPORT—The Cocke County Sheriff’s Office recently held a 9/11-remembrance ceremony to honor 20 years since the tragic events of that day.

Members of the Newport Fire Department participated in the event that honored all of the lives lost during the four coordinated terrorist attacks on our country.

Guest speaker for the event was Chief Raymond Rodriquez, Navy veteran and NJROTC Naval Science Instructor for Cocke County High School.

Rodriquez described the events of that day that changed the lives of every American.

“On September 11, 2001 we had 2,977 victims who died, and among those victims we had 412 that were first responders. The attacks were the deadliest terrorist attacks on American soil in U.S. history,” Rodriquez said.

“The attacks against New York City and Washington, DC caused death and destruction, which triggered an effort to combat terrorism for many years to come. For all Americans, the phrase 9/11 will evoke a special meaning, a moment in history when the world as we knew it changed forever. It’s fitting that every year on September 11 Americans join together to honor the memory of those who died that day.”

Rodriquez said that Americans learned a significant amount about themselves that day when they faced the most extreme and unimaginable circumstances. Ordinary humans reacted with extraordinary heroism that has continued long after the attacks of that day.

“We saw ordinary people choose duty in the face of death as security guards in the World Trade Center continued to help individuals out even as the building was collapsing around them. We say loyalty to friends overwhelm all sense of danger as New York City firefighters searched tirelessly for their own.

“We saw ordinary people choose self-sacrifice for the good of strangers as passengers on the plane over Pennsylvania refused to allow the hijackers to succeed. Ordinary people chose to spend their final moments expressing their love to their family members through one last call.”

Rodriquez was on board a Naval ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean when the attacks occurred. His job in the Navy involved communications and message traffic. His duty that morning was to inform the captain of the events that were taking place in New York City. Rodriquez called the moment one he will never forget.

He thanked the first responders for the work they did on that day, and for the work they continue to do in communities across the country.

“I see our first responders here among us today. You first responders were on the frontline when the attacks occurred 20 years ago. As we stand here now the United States is at war with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Everyone knows that being a first responders isn’t an easy job. It’s the police officers, it’s the firefighters, and it’s the EMS workers who are fighting for our country right now. You are the ones putting your lives at risk everyday when you put your uniform on. So I salute you and thank you for what you do for us.”

Chief Deputy C.J. Ball spoke on behalf of the Sheriff’s Office and acted as emcee for the event. He personally thanked the military members and first responders for the work they do each day.

Ball spoke on the strong faith that was showed by all Americans as they moved forward from the tragic events of that day.

“My family and I had the pleasure of being able to visit ground zero and it was a very emotional experience. 9/11 is day that shall not be forgotten,” Ball said. “We will always remember this tragic attack on our country. With God and prayers we have moved forward and become stronger as one nation under God.”

Administrative Lieutenant Chris Barnes provided and opening and closing prayer for the ceremony.

He also spoke on the resiliency of the American people who rose to the challenge after the 9/11 attacks took place.

“There is a lot going on in our lives and lots of demands on our time,” Barnes said.

“All these things mark the story of our lives. I want to talk about those who had the next chapter of their lives written on 9/11. It’s honorable to take this time to reflect on their stories that were written in sacrifice.

“On that day we were attacked by evil and for 20 years since we have seen the next chapter written as one of resolve and resilience. Since our nations founding Americans have risen to meet the challenge. As George Bush said, for the United States there will be no forgetting 9/11. We will remember every rescuer who died in honor. We will remember every family that lives in grief. We will remember the fire, the ash and the last phone calls.”

Members of the Newport Fire Department proudly unfurled the American Flag during the ceremony and hung it high above the courthouse lawn from a ladder truck.

The Cocke County High School Big Red Fire Choir also participated in the event by singing the National Anthem led by Director Amanda Short.

Lack of hospital space delays First Call’s response times

COCKE COUNTY—COVID-19 has put major stress on all facets of the local medical system including First Call Ambulance Service. First Call has handled COVID transfers on top of regular medical calls throughout the pandemic.

Lindsay Ellison, First Call General Manager, said the service is currently in need of ambulance drivers.

She spoke to members of the Public Safety Committee about the issue Monday evening.

“Staffing has been a huge issue nationwide, but we have been very fortunate until now,” Ellison said. “We are not losing employees, they are just tied up on calls waiting at the hospital.”

Ellison said the lack of bed space at hospitals across the state has led to long wait times for patients facing routine and even serious medical issues.

She said that Newport Medical recently had 16 beds available, but 19 patients were brought in for treatment.

“We are doing the best we can every day, but I’ve never seen anything like it. From Friday to Monday we ran 100 calls with nowhere to put the patients. It’s a trial and error basis right now. We’re looking at hiring an extra person to remain with the patient at the hospital to make sure they’re stable while the ambulance goes to the next call.”

Ellison told the committee that currently there are only two ICU beds available from Newport to Nashville. First Call hopes to hire individuals with first responder training to be ambulance drivers. The new hires will allow the service to add an additional ambulance to the rotation.

They are offering incentives in hopes of filling the positions immediately. Current employees are also being offered bonuses to pick up additional shifts to fill the gaps.

Committee members briefly discussed the building maintenance requirements for the structure that First Call uses as an operations center. The county owns the building, but the contract is ambiguous as to who is responsible for repairs and upkeep on the structure.

The committee has asked the county attorney to review the contract before any improvements are made.

Another item discussed by the committee was the vacancy on the Sheriff’s Office Civil Service Board.

Committee members reviewed applications for the position and asked County Mayor Crystal Ottinger to contact Phillip Weidenburner and Ward Williams to gauge their interest in the position.

Both individuals submitted applications during the initial selection process.

The full County Legislative Body will make a decision on which individual will fill the position during their meeting on Monday, September 20.

Wheel tax option could appear on May 2022 ballot
  • Updated

COCKE COUNTY—Budget Committee members met Monday afternoon to continue their discussions on funding options for a county jail/justice center.

The committee hopes to make a move in the near future before an entirely new County Legislative Body (CLB) may be elected in 2022.

With options limited to a wheel tax, property tax increase or budget cuts, the committee feels as if the public should have a say in what measures are taken.

Committee member and CLB chair Clay Blazer said the work to put a wheel tax on the May ballot needs to be done in the coming months.

“It’s September now and by this time next year we may have 14 new CLB members. Anything we do now can be undone so that’s something we need to consider,” Blazer said.

“There is no guarantee of a continuum so the work needs to be done now. I don’t want to see a wheel tax, but if we are considering it then it should be on the ballot for all citizens to decide.”

The construction costs for the new facility are estimated at $35,996,405. The total bond would be for $40 million to cover all equipment and miscellaneous items needed to move Circuit and Sessions Courts into the new center.

The county would be responsible for a $2.5 million annual payment on the new facility.

A wheel tax of various amounts could be implemented from $20 to $50. That would bring in an estimated $675,868 at the $20 amount, all the way up to $1,689,670 at the $50 amount.

Committee member and commissioner Norman Smith said it would take more than a wheel tax to make the annual payments.

“A wheel tax of $100 still won’t cover $2.5 million per year,” Smith said. “We can’t tell people if they vote for a wheel tax we won’t raise their property taxes when it looks like it will take both to cover that amount.”

Smith did not say that he supported either measure, but agreed strongly with Blazer saying the wheel tax needs to be an option placed on May’s ballot.

The committee will work on the wording that will appear on the ballot over the coming months. It will stress that all funds collected through a wheel tax will be used for the construction of a new jail/justice center.

They hope to better inform the public on the issues the current county jail faces and the need for a new center.

Shooting suspect facing first-degree murder charge
  • Updated

The Cocke County Sheriff’s Office arrested James Dennard Raspberry, age 65, at 1:02 a.m. on September 14.

Raspberry was charged with First-Degree Murder, three counts of aggravated assault and three counts of Reckless Endangerment with a Deadly Weapon.

The arrest was made after Raspberry was allegedly involved in a shooting near Crane Way in Del Rio Monday afternoon. Reports show that the 911 caller stated her husband had been “shot by the neighbor.”

Deputies found a deceased male sitting in the driver’s seat of a white van parked in the roadway adjacent to a driveway on Crane Way. The victim was identified as Joseph Maxwell Carter, age 35. Three young children were also in the van at the time of the shooting.

All three children escaped the incident with no physical injuries. Reports list the children’s ages as 10 months, 9-years-old and 10-years-old. A release from the Sheriff’s Office shows that Raspberry was released on a $100,000 bond at 7:52 a.m. Tuesday morning.

Meth seized during traffic stop; driver facing charges

NEWPORT—Deputy Blake Cupp conducted a traffic stop on a car due to the registration not matching the vehicle. The car came to a stop at the intersection of Jasmine Drive and Industrial Road.

Cupp came into contact with the driver, Eric Ballard, age 54, Newport. The report states that Ballard was reaching in the back seat, so Cupp advised him to step out of the vehicle.

Ballard was placed into handcuffs while something was still in his hand. Cupp told Ballard to drop the item and a bag of clear rock substance believed to be Methamphetamine fell to the ground.

Ballard was being placed into the back seat of the patrol vehicle when he slipped a handcuff and attempted to flee on foot. Ballard was advised to stop or he would be tased, but he reportedly ignored verbal commands and continued to run on foot.

He was tased and placed back into custody without further incident. During a probable cause search of the vehicle, Cupp located several bags of crystal rock substance believed to Methamphetamine which weighed 8.4 ounces. Ballard was transported to the County Jail after being cleared by medical personnel.

He was charged with Possession of Schedule II, Unlawful Drug Paraphernalia Use, Driving While License Revoked, Resisting Stop, Halt, Arrest, or Search, and Escape.

County's active COVID cases still over 500

COCKE COUNTY—Halfway through September, the county is still affected by over 500 active COVID-19 cases. A total of 25 new cases were reported on September 13 alone.

In the last seven days, 334 new cases have been reported to the state.

Over those seven days, the county has conducted an average of 115.6 COVID-19 tests per day with a 26.5% positivity rate.

As of September 13, there have been 132 hospitalizations reported to the state. The county’s fatality count remains at 104 lives lost.

The county continues to inch closer and closer to the state mean for vaccinated population. As of this Monday, 47.5% of the Cocke County population had received at least the first shot and 41.1% were fully vaccinated.

The following is a list of surrounding counties showing their total COVID-19 count compared to active cases, as well as their population percentage that has received at least one dose versus percent fully vaccinated:

Sevier: 16,221/1,054 (48.69%/40.15%)

Hamblen: 10,699/950 (39.95%/34.01%)

Greene: 9,930/1,021 (43.61%/38.15%)

Jefferson: 7,727/720 (49.90%/42.71%)

Over the last seven days, Tennessee has ranked as the state with the second-highest rate of new COVID cases per capita, behind only West Virginia. Those cases have resulted in just over 200 new COVID-related fatalities, bringing the state toll to 13,890, according to the CDC.

Across the state, there have now been 6.45 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine administered to fewer than 3.5 million Tennesseans, or about 51% of the population. Of those, about 43.2% of the state population is fully vaccinated.

The CDC reported 38,908 new COVID-19 cases across the nation, which officially pushed the nationwide case count over 41 million American cases since the outbreak of the pandemic.

279 new COVID-related fatalities were reported across the nation, and the total now stands at 658,410 American lives lost.

The national vaccination rate stands at just under 54% of the population fully vaccinated, or about 179 million Americans. This includes over 45 million Americans over the age of 65, meaning about 82.5% of that age group is fully vaccinated.